iPhone's Location-Aware Apps

The iPhone‘s location-aware APIs are being used by developers for all sorts of applications. I wrote some of my initial thoughts about the implementation on Friday. I’ve downloaded a ton of applications, but these are the ones that I have so far found to be most noteworthy. I am sure that by the end of the month I will have an entirely new list.

If you don’t have an iPhone these posts are going to seem monotonous and echo-chambery. I can understand that; hearing constantly about a gadget you don’t use is annoying. However, I think that what is on the iPhone now will be on other phones in the future and if your site or product has any location aspect you’ll want to keep track of this marketplace.

Loopt – Free


I saw a quick preview of Loopt‘s friendfinder app at Where 2.0 and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since. The Virtual Earth map allows me to see both my friends and Yelp search results together. I can also share my location through the app with friends. Unfortunately, this only seems to work for other Loopt users and Loopt does not seem to be to popular amongst my friends — yet. I hope that a friendfinder app comes along that will replace my address book and show me a friend’s latest status or location before I call them. Loopt has the status, but not the ability to call.

Whrrl – Free

Pelago‘s Whrrl is the other free, VC-backed friend-finder app. It, like Loopt, show me friends and businesses on the same map. One major difference is that it is more of a browse functionality (showing places reviewed by friends). Another is that Whrrl is also a web-service and all of this information (and my account) is available via a browser. Unfortunately, I can’t actually resize the map; it’s very awkward.

Where – Free


The Where platform was released by uLocate on Sprint last year (Radar post). This one program makes it very easy for developers to build location-aware widgets. The Where app provides the platform and the distribution channel for developers across many phones and carriers. The apps included in the iPhone version include a Starbucks finder, gasbuddy, HeyWhatsThat (a location-aware mountain identifier), SkyMap, Yelp, and a Zipcar finder. If you are looking to test the waters with a location-aware iPhone app I would consider using the Where platform.

Omnifocus – $19.99

Omnifocus is a GTD-style task manager that syncs with a Mac-only program of the same name. It will use your location to help you create location-based to-do list. I haven’t been able to find this part of the functionality yet so I am not sure how well implemented or useful it is.

Urban Spoon – Free

urban spoon

Urban Spoon is a restaurant picker with a unique twist. After using three slot machine dials to select neighborhood, cuisine, and cost you can shake the app to get a matching restaurant. The app will spin the dials (as shown in the screenshots), while waiting for your pick to come back. I’ve found the available locations to be limited (for example Santa Rosa, CA is missing), but if you can use the app where you are then its worthwhile.

Twittelator – Free


Twittelator is one of the two free Twitter clients. It’s got a nice feature that lets you send a link to a map of your location. It also has a “Twitter 911” feature. If you press the yellow button it will blast your followers with a Help Me message and a link to your location. I’ve had usability issues with both Twittelator and Twitteriffic (which also has some location-aware features) and haven’t selected my primary one yet.

NearPics – free


Nearpics is a location-aware photo browser. It uses your location to select local photos from Google’s Panoramio service. It’s very sluggish over AT+Ts Edge network, but works quite well on WiFi.

Weatherbug – Free


While not location-aware (that I can tell) Weatherbug provides a lot of great information on three different pre-selected cities. It’s much more detailed than the standard issue iPhone weather app.

  • Dan

    Graffitio is an interesting app that is like the concept of “air-posting” attaching notes to a geo-location wall near you. It could potentially be like semacodes with a code to look at. Sadly until this app can run as a background process you’re phone can’t tell you when you’ve run into a new wall with a note on it. Still its the first app I’ve seen in the App Store that sorta approaches the augmented reality slice.

    Limbo is the other social network, what am i doing geo-location app on the iPhone. The interface is promising but using it exposes the biggest issue with all these geo-friend networks out there. They may be big on the east or west coast but in the midwest, there’s like 5 of us hanging out. Without an established base of participation the location based awareness friend group is really lack luster.

    The other big issue these apps have is the “cancel or allow” nagging that Apple should of reminded itself of since they made fun of Vista with that whole cancel or allow ad. I’m sick of my phone asking me permission to let an app know where I am, that should be in the settings somewhere.

    Other than that, long way to go to geo locational goodness, but its a good start. It will rock for travelers but folks that have towns and areas they already know, it doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table at least for me. I want a smarter sensory location aware phone.

  • Possibly one reason that Loopt isn’t more popular is the way they spam you with an unsolicited SMS to sign up when one of your friends chooses to invite you. SMS’s cost money, folks.


  • There’s an alternative for Windows Mobile and Blackberry phones. Our solution allows developers to write simple widgets and then use our open API’s to send that data (in this case location data) directly to their own web site where it can be mashed up to any combination of services they choose.

    The simplicity of this approach allows the customer to just use a regular browser to view the results and of course it works across different mobile platforms with the same consistent interface.


    Peter Cranstone

  • Ted

    Brady – Whrrl and Loopt are spamming my contact lists on the iPhone and also draining my battery life. Wouldnt recommend to your audience. Bad bad bad…

  • Charles

    Why is everyone saying that Loopt is free? I took a look on their site, Loopt.com, and they bill either $2.99 or $3.99 PER MONTH depending on the carrier. That is at least a $36 a year application. On their site, they also have this in their terms of use:

    You agree to pay any fees due for and incurred by your use of the Loopt Services. Any payments and fees for your purchase and use of the Loopt Services may be managed by your mobile carrier or Loopt. Please refer to your mobile carrier’s regular billing statement for charges related to the Loopt Services, and contact your mobile provider directly with any questions or comments related to these fees. If your mobile provider notifies Loopt that your account is past due, then your Loopt Services subscription may be deactivated without notice to you. If you wish to discontinue using the Loopt Services, then you may cancel your Loopt Services subscription.

    And here is their billing page:

    I don’t have an iphone and haven’t seen the app store personally to see how they are positioning the pricing, but from what I can tell, it is certainly not free. Maybe the download is free and the first month is free, but there seems to be some serious charges on the way.

    Let me know if anyone else has seen more about this via the app store itself as AT&T isn’t mentioned on the billing page of their site.


  • Sherry

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Limbo as a solid social networking app. It has features the ones you mentioned have, plus a group chat tool where you can send text messages to your friends and they can respond back to the whole group. It also lets you sort by what people are doing rather than just in a list or map. I guess it doesn’t have Yelp – which is awesome – but I’ve been using the Yelp app itself so I can also make postings. You should check out Limbo too when you have a chance – that’s definitely my pic for a location social network that I’ll actually use after the iPhone hype wears off.

  • Zum Glück sind zumindestens in der Liste noch ein großteil der Tools umsonst. ;>

    Vorallem Weatherbug gefällt mir doch recht gut, auch wenn die Informationen über meine Heimatstadt nicht sehr üppig ausfallen.

  • brady forrest

    I talked with Sam the CEO of Loopt. They are not charging for the iPhone and will update the text of that page. If you want to turn off the unsolicited SMSs reply with STOP.

    @Dan – I hadn’t seen grafitto. Sounds rad, but bummer about the background issue. Limbo is a pay app which surprised me. I don’t think it will get uptake.

  • Nice overview!
    The ‘Twitter 911’-feature can be a real life-saver. So in theory it is a powerfull feature. Problem is that someone might send the message accidently. When this happens multiple times, everyone will ignore the next Twitter911. And that might be the one that is real… Regards Ann Mary

  • thanks..
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  • Robert Keys

    Does anyone know how these Location Aware apps work? do they use any API’s that Apple provides part of its SDK?

    Email me with any info.


  • Dave

    Would you believe all these apps seem to do MORE than I want – such that the “more” makes them useless?

    I just want a simple app that shows me and my friends on a map. All that other stuff about restaurants and places to meet up and “cool new venues” – that’s cool and all, but too distracting to allow the simple use of a friend radar. That’s what I’m looking for. Someday – I hope to find it.

  • @Dave: I do agree that these devices really can be very distracting. But I do like to find out what my friends are doing. Please write a comment here as soon as you have found your Simple app.

  • DI


    check out buddy beacon, works across multiple cell phone carriers. If you use it let everyone know what you think.

  • Thank You..

  • Thansk

  • Thank You..

  • Thanks you

  • Is there an App for finding your nearest hotel? This would be a great mashup with the expedia/hotels.com api.

  • Thanks

  • jack su

    Thanks, do you have latest update on the comparison of location based apps?

  • thank you very much..

  • Thanks, do you have latest update on the comparison of location based apps?

  • raj

    I am a novice to apple iPhone programming but have an idea. For my project I amy need to get all iphones arround me (in my vicinity say 2 miles. This can be modified though). Is there any API that I could use to find this info? A pointers/suggestions will be greately appreciated.

    Thank you.


  • Birddogbjr

    What about private “social” location aware apps like Inner Circle. They take away the security or privacy concerns while providing the same benefit.

  • John Galatte

    Have you ever looked at Friendio? It’s at http://friend.io and it tracks the iPhone on a map, so you can see where your friends are.

  • Shayan

    @List by MagnonPro lets you assign locations to your lists so you can prioritize your errands according to where you are.

  • Lori

    Hot Springs of California gives you a moving map or a list view sorted by distance as you drive around. It is a great way to find new soaking spots.

  • enLegion is an iPhone and web app that allows you to share location, much more flexibly than any other of the social apps. They make it like chat so you share with specific chat groups/channels at a time. So you can track family members, friends you’re meeting, or your carpool without crosstalk of other apps.

  • “Find a Restaurant”
    “Find a Restaurant” app for iPhone and IPod Touch finds the closest restaurant based on your preferred cuisine type. You can also view user reviews and recommendations of top restaurants. Includes a free bonus app – TipCalculator!
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  • Droaden

    Think its possible to make an app to look at your friends where they are at, like all these other apps, but with a feature to zoom in and look around like google map ?